“Most positive experiences are fairly mild, and that’s fine. But mild or intense, they normally flow through the brain like water through a sieve while negative experiences get caught every time (which helped our ancestors survive). That’s why it’s so important, several times a day or more, to turn toward a positive experience and take it into you. And since “neurons that fire together, wire together,” you’ll be weaving positive feelings, sensations, and thoughts into the fabric of your brain and your self.“
* Rick Hanson, Ph.D.
“Three Weeks to a Better Me” was submitted by a participant of my Core Personal Renewal (CPR) ‘Discovery’ series in 1985 as part of the three months follow up coaching.
THREE WEEKS TO A BETTER ME
(c) Anya Bateman Readers Digest, September, 1983
“I don’t really remember how or where I heard that it takes just three weeks to form a habit. But I do remember that I was fascinated at the prospect and, at the same time, doubtful. Still, I decided to attempt it. There was certainly plenty of room in my life for improvement.
My dentist had warned me that flossing teeth was as important as brushing them, and that if I didn’t begin flossing, my gum problems would get worse. I had been meaning to, but kept putting it off.
Okay, I said to myself, I’ll give this three-week method a go. I called a girlfriend and asked for her support. The first day of flossing was easy. I recalled that I would be talking to my girlfriend the first thing the next day and pride myself in keeping commitments. The second and third days it seemed a tiresome chore. Each night I felt too tired to spend my time this way or creatively “forgot” with some pressing activity taking on more importance. And, just past the first week, Flossing was almost a bedtime ritual.
By the end of three weeks–to my amazement–flossing had become as natural as brushing my teeth. I was elated. I had formed a good habit! If I could do it once, I could surely do it again, on a more challenging level.
I had long meant to eat more nutritious foods–more fruits and vegetables, fewer gooey sweets, and nutritional supplements. So I prepared a chart listing what I could eat out of my studies of what would be the right plan for me to get the physical looks and energy I wanted. I taped it to the refrigerator as a visual reminder.
The first day, quite frankly, I felt miserable. I kept as busy as possible, but I kept thinking about the chocolate cake in the fridge and the butterscotch cookies in the cookie tin. I purposefully kept a notebook with me at all times to jot down my feelings and whatever sprung up as excuses not to keep my commitment. By the sixth day friends and the family had eaten the cake and cookies and I was actually beginning to enjoy fruits, vegetables, and the nutritional supplements. Also, I felt a new surge of self-esteem. At the end of three weeks my habit had been set; craving for sweet no longer dominated my actions, and I had lost five pounds. To reach for better foods now felt natural.
Wow! I thought to myself, “This is working!” And, the real challenge lay ahead. I had been concentrating on physical habits.
What about habits of the heart and mind?
My husband Vern and I had not been getting along well lately. We didn’t argue, but we hardly communicated. I knew that one problem was my constant criticism of him. Unfortunately, I looked mostly at his faults and found it hard to notice his positive qualities.
I really didn’t want to be a nag, but it almost seemed as if I couldn’t help myself. Consequently, Vern closed me out of his life and it seemed as if he was making me irritable and on edge all the time. But was it all his fault? But could I change? Did I want to change, because I certainly had a stack of hurts built up of how inconsiderate and distant he was! And would my putting forth all that effort to change make any difference anyway.
I made another three week chart and decided to commit to myself to change. Also, each day I would find something I had done toward making the change that I would claim as my personal, secret victory. My goal toward feeling better about myself and my husband was to each day find one thing I liked in my husband and mention it to him.
Again, the first few days presented problems. I noticed quite a few things I didn’t like about Vern. Why did he leave his snack things out? How could he wear that awful shirt again? Can’t he ever help me with keeping this house presentable? Why does he have to sound like a wounded buffalo when he laughs? Are sports all he knows? And, I had a difficult time coming up with anything positive. Isn’t there one good thing I can mention? I made note of the anger, frustration, even superiority pride that built up in me like a wall.
Of course! When something needed repair around the house, Vern tinkered with it until he discovered what was wrong. He never mentioned nor monitored the way I spent money on things for the house or kitchen.
“It’s nice to have that light switch fixed, I remarked. I could hardly hide the effort in my voice I needed to speak it.
The next day, I told Vern I was glad he was patient with my faults and didn’t nag me the way I often nagged him. He smiled a small, knowing smile that I really got angry about.
I said to myself, “This just isn’t going to work!”
The next few days I still found it difficult to come up with good things and I was beginning to feel phony, like a robot programmed to say nice things without really meaning them. But, as the three weeks commitment continued, finding positive things about my husband came more easily. He deals honestly with everyone; he treats our children with patience. Why had I seen only the negative?
By the end of the 21 days, I couldn’t believe how easy it had been to praise Vern, without feeling embarrassment. And Vern did seem different. He responded to me with interest and began to talk more openly about his work and concerns. In fact, toward the end of the three weeks he mentioned that I seemed different.
“I’ve been working lately to overcome my nagging,” I admitted.
Vern answered with emotion in his voice; “I guess that’s why I’ve been feeling so much better about myself lately, and about us. Thanks for helping. I really do need to work to be a better husband and man.”
I was so touched I could hardly speak. Then I explained to him all about the three-week plan and my and adventures with it. Vern said he wanted to get involved in it for himself.
Since those positive adventures with the three-week plan, I have continued to help myself become a better person by working on other areas of my life, including my relationships with our three children.
I have found that I don’t fall back into old negative patterns when I review each week the good patterns I’ve managed to practice and acquire. The best thing about the positive experiences I have had is this: now I have the confidence that I can improve and change anything I decide to about myself by persisting for three weeks.
What a terrific me I am!”
“You don’t let yourself get sucked into the negative material but keep the positive material relatively intense and in the forefront of awareness. With repetition, the positive material will gradually associate to, infuse, soothe, and even gradually replace the negative material.” Rick Hansen, Ph.D., “Just One Thing” newsletter, March 4, 2012.
• Rick Hanson, Ph.D., quoted at the beginning of this writing from his “Just One Thing” newsletter, March 4, 2012, is the author of “Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Science of Happiness, Love and Wisdom”. He has a new book entitled “Just One Thing” with more practical applications than his first great book.
Both boooks reference recent neuroscience research that validates the elasticity of the brain and our abilities to create new neuronal pathways; new ‘default’ responses, at any age.
It is so rewarding to be continuing the study of personal growth through the tools of Cognitive Psychology, Neurolinguistic Programming and Meditation that I have been studying and contributing to over the past three decades.
I look forward to you also one day having a similar story to share with me at email@example.com
© 2012 Virgil Beasley, Psy. D.